I’ve suggested a few things this week to friends regarding Apple’s previous CEO. First, is that they have had a “succession plan” in place for a few years now. Second, that Jobs was much more than a CEO. People use terms like “visionary” do describe this quality, but fact of the matter, he ran Apple like an entrepreneur does – with an idea that is knit closely to him.
But a third statement I’ve made this week is in the just-plain-fun-speculation category: that Steve Jobs has likely laid out a 100 year vision of the future: of tech, of work, of life. Millions of us wish we had access to this fabled document, and just as many have thoughts of their own. Here’s mine:
First off, this little rumor about a “Christmas iPad 3″ is BS. It’s been around the block each year, and frankly, Apple’s got too good of a thing going to bow down to the weak shopping whims of Christmas mark-downs. They’ve got a high-end product that still has yet to reach anywhere near market-saturation. Ain’t no iPad ’til next spring.
But what of larger questions about the tablet-scene? First, there were complaints regarding the “oversized phone” nature of the iPad, and those are slowly waning (albeit about 20% true!). More interestingly though, against all consumer-demand and low-saturation, there are the nay-sayers with rumblings about the pending tablet-bubble burst. This is attributing the “fad” label, and equating the tablet “market” with the netbook market. (And many who speak of such bubbles are tech-economists, not tech-visionaries!).
Yes, the netbook market has mostly been played out. They were handy for quick-ish emails and perhaps some movie watching.. and for the lower incomes, it granted feasible access into the coffee-house domains of the upper-middle classes. For this, I’m glad. Still, netbooks are based on Windows, which has an attribute of “patience with-technology required.” It’s a composite variable, made up of a few simple variables such as bloatware, incomplete hardware testing, low-end hardware failures & inconsistencies, and a generally deteriorating software system. Android has the potential for this variable to take over too. But this is the road of the middle-ground: take it to the masses at a lower quality, at a lower cost. Netbooks were “doomed” for being a static innovation; there was no growth to be had, short of battery life & performance. It was a single-variable innovation: of form-factor, and perhaps of cost.
This is of course, not the Apple way. They provide high-quality, heavily integrated, heavily-tested devices. But more importantly, the innovation of the iPad is not just of form (“it’s an oversized phone“), and not just of a single-variable. The primary innovation is the flexibility of touch-applications on a full-screen. This is of course, it’s hindrance too: what of high-rate input (fingers are fast!)? This hindrance can be remedied with future performance.. Nevertheless, the secondary innovations/features are huge: the lowered “frustation” variable, the lowered power-consumption (and exceptional battery life), and important-to-me, the lowered heat-output.
Intel continues on a flawed, hideous hardware design, and Microsoft on a flawed, hideous software design. Each company has made iterative improvements, but ultimately the same iterative innovations of the ARM processor yields greater returns. This gets people all in a fluster, saying, “ARM is the future! ARM everywhere!” ARM servers are handy for light-loads, ARM phones are handy for low-power, but Intel still rules the beastly-computing category. There will not be an ARM workstation competing for a very, very long time. I’d rather have a GPU-based workstation.
This workstation/consumer-device split is obvious. It was the same form of divide in the early computer-designs: server & terminal. Gates & Jobs made their millions on breaking down this split, and providing computing to the masses. That was 25 years ago. The innovation of today is actually the undoing of this middle-ground. Sitting at a desk to use a computer is so Modern, so institutional. And so we need Modern, Institutional computers called “workstations.” For our less modern, less institutional lives, we need desk-freedom: the mobile device. This social structure is the primary reason why the Mac Desktop OS will not be merging with the iPhone/iPad OS anytime soon. There are too many resources differentiating the two. (Though a more consistent interface will emerge, once that rate-of-finger-speed and tactile feedback comes around.)
As much as I love the full-screen application computing theory, I must inevitably call it bunk. The most fundamental form of “work” (which occurs on the ‘workstation’) is the use of 2 objects together. Creating and labour is an effort of combination, of gluing two boards together, of bringing one object to another location, etc. For this, most computer-labour will occur with 2 windows on the screen. The least amount of window/view switching is equal to the least amount of distraction and fussing-labour. With a full-screen application, I must change the view over and over, with a middle-ground called “copy/paste.” This is where the “cards” idea of WebOS, or the Courier idea from Microsoft comes into play: there is a source and destination always in-view: the document I am writing, and the document I am referencing. Labour-creation.
The iPad, and now Mac OS Lion, seems to think all labour occurs within a single application/view. As one blog pointed out, “Even something as basic as chewing through unread emails proves to be a gigantic pain on a tablet. I typically get through eight or nine messages before I need to a) add an attachment from a file system that doesn’t exist or b) open up a new browser to complete an inbox search whilst keeping the existing message open in a nearby window. Foiled again.”
Single-focused action, with minor side-trails is what the tablet of today is all about. It’s great for that, and there’s plenty of distraction in our lives, so I get it. People work 50 hours a week on a 27″ big-screen, and only want to come home to an easy-to-use, no-third-party (mouse/keyboard) inputs.. It’s a simple, obvious, clean, concrete method, on a device that works well.
Apple’s future? Fine and dandy as long as they keep producing bug-free stuff (since all other makers are fine with bugs apparently!) As noted, the full-screen productive-stuff will be modified into dual-app-views, or “hooks” to “send to” or “get from” other apps better than Windows has provided. I do expect handwriting and voice recognition to be optionally included within 50 years- people like VisionObjects provides a good method, but little-to-no integration into iPad or Android or Windows systems. As touch becomes more enabled and interatively improved in applications, mice will lose their sway. The fight will always be over the keyboard.
I don’t expect touch to be fully fledged in Windows 8 or Mac OS 10.8,9+. Mac OS 11, whatever that is, will be a huge milestone, and the iterations above that will be fantastic. “Stuff of the movies” is decades away from production, but available today if you’re ok with setting up the fussy systems with no support.
Oh, and TVs? Now’s a great time to buy. The past 5 years have been all about improving in price & quality; things have stabilized quite well now, since the next innovation is 3D, and that’s also BS (thanks to our meager eyes!). The only trouble with TVs is the fragmentation of a unified social. When everyone in the house is doing something else (on their own iPad), dad watching football on the big TV can be distracting. So I wonder about the “institution” of the TV, of socialization over movies. That’s also why I doubt the AppleTV rumours. The present edition is all about selling content, which is key to Apple’s success as ads on the internet/phones are for Google.
So what is next? The iPad is a first step of divergence from other form-factors, which is also a first step of convergence of software interfaces. Go track those hurricanes & you’ll know where we’re going.